Every megastar has to begin somewhere, and for Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee) it was on the streets of Hong Kong, haunted by nightmares of a demon as a child which drove him on to new heights of achievement in his personal and professional life. This brought him to the United States of America where he wanted to hone his body to perfection using a form of kung fu learned back in Hong Kong, but mostly he was without purpose, with a dead end job in a Chinese restaurant and a string of meaningless sexual encounters until martial arts gained a true hold in his life...
There's biography and there's hagiography, and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story was definitely not going to offer a warts and all rendering of the seventies superstar, having been given the OK by Lee's widow Linda Lee Caldwell. So it was with the utmost respect that he was presented as a man without flaws, fully worthy of the praise and adulation heaped upon him by fans across the globe, therefore anyone wanting the background on his womanising or pugnacious tendencies would be advised to look elsewhere. In that sense, this official biopic wasn't much different from the masses of cash-in movies which continue to this day.
Except this did adhere to enough facts to be of more worth than say, an exploitation flick where Bruce literally returned from the grave to do battle once more, or even Game of Death, where the last surviving footage of him in action was edited into a spurious gangster conspiracy plot, though at least that featured the great man in combat, however briefly, rather than one of the clones or wannabes (some of whom didn't do such a bad job, to be fair). Still, there was a lot of invention to Dragon, not least the actual demon hounding our hero in visions, not something that ever happened and we could have well done without the sequence where Bruce has his head beaten with his own gravestone.
That said, if anyone had the task of recreating the charisma of Bruce Lee then Jason Scott Lee was a perfectly reliable choice; an actor who never quite made the front rank but worked steadily thanks to dedication and talent, he was an unknown at the time he was cast, which gave us no preconceptions about how he was going to approach the role, so if he obviously was not going to eclipse the real person's performances, he did very well in emulating his Jeet Kune Do stylings and dramatically was sincere with just the right amount of swagger to suggest a man who was not shy about taking the world on without compromising. It was entertaining to see Bruce's movies and TV reproduced if nothing else.
Though Dragon wanted to talk about issues in addition to offering us martial arts setpieces featuring rather too much leaping about, and the main issue Bruce faces is racism, what with him married to a white woman while he was of East Asian origin. This wasn't handled in thudding, beat you over the head manner but by lacing it into the plot organically: one scene where Bruce and Linda (Lauren Holly) go to see Breakfast at Tiffany's has endured in the popular consciousness as an indictment of dreadful stereotypes spoiling a supposedly classic movie, and went some way to making viewers more sensitive to crass devices such as that. Fair enough, the biopic messes with the timeline, invents entire people to replace the actual individuals, and won't hear a word against its subject though Lee's frustration at being unable to break out of the chopsocky pigeonhole gives us a glimpse of his temper, but as a sort of fantasia on his life Dragon was acceptable. Also, the fight outside the restaurant includes a Chinese man saying "Over there!" in a Glaswegian accent, oddly. Oversweet music by Randy Edelman.